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Homeowner’s Guide to Paint Rollers

They're the fuzziest tools in your DIY stash! We'll help you choose the right paint rollers and covers for all your home painting projects.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

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Woman Painting A Wall Gettyimages 174183087Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

How to Choose the Right Paint Roller

Faster and easier than using a brush, a roller applies paint smoothly and evenly on interior and exterior surfaces with less fuss and muss.

Anatomy of a paint roller: The parts

Paint roller frames are made of thick wire with hard plastic handles. Frames are designed to hold roller covers firmly so they don’t slip or slide. Most frames come with threaded handles to easily attach to an extension pole.

Roller covers are tubes topped with an absorbent material that slips over the paint roller frame. They’re often made of synthetic fabrics (woven or knitted) such as polyester or foam, as well as natural fibers like mohair or lambswool. Covers come in a range of nap sizes. The thicker the pile, the more paint it holds.

The right paint roller for the job

Frames

When buying a roller frame, choose one with a sturdy and strong wire cage that spins easily on its ball bearings. For comfortable painting, pick one with an easy-to-grip, ergonomic handle.

Covers

In Episode 12 of Painting and Decorating Contractors Association’s Trade Best Practices Series, PDCA Education Director Chris Shank explains the importance of using high-quality covers when painting a room.

Shank recommends choosing a cover that lets you balance production with the desired finish. “A professional-quality roller cover will perform and produce expected results,” he says, “and a cheap cover won’t.” Spending a little more upfront can save you time and money in the long run.

There are many types of sizes, cover fabrics and naps to match the job you’re doing.

Size

Nine-inch rollers are a popular size for most jobs. An 18-inch roller covers large areas faster, while mini rollers (4-1/2-in.) are perfect for painting trim, doors and smaller projects.

Fabric

For most interior painting, woven or knitted synthetic covers are a good choice because they shed less and provide a smooth coating on walls and ceilings. Natural materials like lambswool are recommended when applying oil-based or gloss coatings. Foam rollers eliminate laps lines so they’re ideal for use on fine woodwork to spread varnishes and polyurethanes.

Nap

The nap or pile height of a roller indicates its thickness. The most common nap is 1/2-in., recommended on smooth interior walls. A fluffier, 1-1/4-in. roller cover works best on rough exterior surfaces. Rule of thumb: The larger the nap, the more paint it holds, which means a more stippled (textured) finish left behind.

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Paint Roller 41iuszqd+dl. Ac via amazon.com

Best All-Purpose Roller Cover

Extremely high-performing, the Purdy White Dove Roller Cover works with all types of coatings — from latex and oil-based to stains, clear-coats and primers. A durable and affordable alternative to wool, the White Dove roller cover features woven deluxe Dralon, an acrylic material made from polymer that offers excellent coverage and a lint-free finish.

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Paint Roller 41fdqj+yubl. Ac via amazon.com

Best Roller Cover for Oil-Based Paint

Synthetic fibers are fine for use with water-based paints. But when applying alkyds, enamels and urethanes, natural 100 percent shearling wool, like that on the Wooster Wool Roller Cover, is recommended.

Oil-based paints are extremely durable, lending themselves well to moldings and woodwork. The Wooster is a dense and soft roller that promises a smooth, uniform and lustrous finish.

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Paint Roller 61+dc8er5xl. Ac Sl1200 via amazon.com

Best Roller Cover for Textured Surfaces

When painting textured walls, you want a roller cover that can go deep. The Wooster RR664-9 Golden Flo Roller Cover has a pile height of 1-1/2-in., guaranteeing it will fill every nook and cranny with color.

This roller cover is made of high-density polyester knit fabric to hold large amounts of paint, yet it resists matting. It is an outstanding option on rough surfaces like stucco, brick and wood.

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Paint Roller 41zbzc3dmal. Ac via amazon.com

Best Natural Roller Cover

The Wooster R291-9 Lambswool 100 Roller Cover is made of wool, a natural material that’s generally more durable than its manufactured counterparts. Nine inches long with a 1/2-in. nap, the lambswool cover is best suited for applications on semi-rough surfaces.

Painting purists who like the feel and performance of natural materials won’t mind paying a little more, especially because it holds on to paint well, releases evenly, doesn’t cause splattering and cleans up faster.

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Paint Roller 41jh8hpluol. Ac via amazon.com

Best Mini Roller and Cover

For touching up scuff marks and fingerprints around the house, no need to bring out the big guns when the Value Set of ALAZCO Three-inch Mini Paint Roller does the job nicely.

Also ideal for working on narrow surfaces like beams, baseboards and tight corners, the set includes a three-inch frame with free-spin action and non-slip comfort grip. Six 1/2-in. roller covers made of polyethylene woven fibers really soak up the paint.

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Paint Roller Kit 81k7z2ve1il. Ac Sl1500 via amazon.com

Best Value

The Bates Paint Roller Set has everything you need for all your do-it-yourself painting projects. The practical kit comes with a tray, a nine- and a four-inch roller frame (with two covers each), a two-inch angled brush for cutting in, and a high-density foam brush for cabinetry and trim. The durable plastic paint tray alone is worth the $15 price tag.

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Paint Roller Project Select Paint Roller Frames Rf210 64 1000via homedepot.com

Best Large Roller

Perfect for covering huge areas, the 18-inch Yoke Roller Frame proves that the bigger the roller, the more efficient the paint job. Load this monster up and finish painting a room in half the time. The versatile Yoke roller frame adjusts from 12 to 18 inches so you can swap out different size covers for different types of jobs.

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Paint Roller Cleaner 91rgaz+vhgl. Ac Sl1500 via amazon.com

Bonus: Best Roller Cover Cleaner

Clean paint rollers fast with the Roller Ready Paint Roller Cleaner. No more buying cheap, disposable covers just so you can avoid the messy cleanup. The Roller Ready connects to any cordless drill (drill attachment included) to wash, spin and dry roller covers in minutes.

Stop waste! Use your paint roller covers again and again, saving money and the environment.

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Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.